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Centre Can't Fence India-Myanmar Border Without Consulting Local Public, Says Nagaland CM

Neiphiu Rio's remarks come close on the heels of Union home minister Amit Shah's announcement that India is going to fence its border with Myanmar and discontinue the free movement agreement.

New Delhi: Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio has sought to convey to the Union government that its decision to fence the India-Myanmar border cannot be taken unilaterally but can be evolved only “through discussion” after consulting stakeholders concerned.

“That (border fencing) needs thorough discussion and we have to consult people. If needed, we have to work out a formula on how to solve the issue of the public and also to prevent infiltration,” Rio told reporters, according to The Telegraph.

Rio underlined that there are complexities involved concerning the matter. “Nagaland has a border with Myanmar. Both sides we have Nagas. My village is on one side (of the border) and my kheti (farmland) is on the other. So there has to be a workable formula,” he said.

Rio’s remarks come close on the heels of Union home minister Amit Shah’s announcement that India is going to fence its border with Myanmar and discontinue the free movement agreement. Shah had added that the border would be “protected like the Bangladesh frontier”.

The free movement regime in place allows people living on either side of the India-Myanmar border to venture 16 km into each other’s territory without a visa and stay for up to two weeks because many of them share cross-border familial and ethnic ties.

Besides Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh states share borders with Myanmar. Except for a 10km stretch in Manipur, the border is porous, leading to influx, free movement of rebels, and cross-border smuggling. The porous border has been under the spotlight since the ethnic violence broke out in Manipur on May 3, last year, with allegations that infiltrators and terror groups from across the border have played a major role in fomenting trouble in Manipur. Even the Manipur government and Meitei organisations have been demanding fencing and scrapping of the FMR.

However, the Kuki-Zo communities of Manipur and Mizos of Mizoram who share ethnic ties with the Chin community of Myanmar are opposed to the move. They, instead, place the onus for violence in the state on the N. Biren Singh government and Meitei radical outfits.

Shah’s announcement has drawn opposition from several quarters in Mizoram and Nagaland. Mizoram chief minister Lalduhoma vehemently had opposed the move, calling it “unacceptable”. “The British had separated the Mizos by carving out Burma from India. They divided the Mizo ethnic people’s land from the ancient days into two parts. That is why we cannot accept the border, instead, we always dream of becoming a nation under one administration,” Lalduhoma had told Jaishankar in a meeting in New Delhi.

The two countries share a 1,643-kilometer-long border and have had a free movement regime since 2018 as part of India’s Act East Policy. This allows residents of both countries living along the border to travel up to 16 km into each other’s territory without a visa. Ending the agreement will restrict this movement.